Jewish leaders on Thursday condemned Michael Jackson's use of anti-Semitic terms in a new song, but the singer's longtime friend, entertainment mogul David Geffen, defended the musician as simply "naive."
"There's not one iota of anti-Semitism in Michael," said Geffen, who is Jewish. "He's not a hater of any kind. At worst, sometimes he's naive, and I think to the degree that anybody is bothered or offended, he's genuinely sorry."
The use of the terms Jew me and kike in his new song "They Don't Care About Us" was raised Wednesday during Diane Sawyer's interview with Jackson and his wife, Lisa Marie Presley-Jackson on the ABC-TV program "PrimeTime Live." The song appears on Jackson's album "HIStory--Past, Present and Future Book I," which will be released Tuesday.
The singer expressed shock that he could be perceived as anti-Semitic, citing Geffen as one of several friends and business associates who are Jewish.
"I love all races of people, from Arabs to Jewish people," he said in the interview. "When I say, 'Jew me / Sue me / Everybody do me / Kick me/kike me / Don't you / Black or white me' [in the song], I'm talking about myself as the victim."
Still, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, expressed concern.
"When you look at [the lyrics] and the effect they could have on young people, it's deeply disturbing," he said.
David Lehrer, Los Angeles regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, agreed. "The words are hateful and hurtful, and hate is too serious a subject for subtleties," he said.
While stopping short of calling for a boycott or recall of the album, Lehrer suggests that Jackson and Epic Records issue a commentary on the song to be included with the "HIStory" album. Along with much of the album, the song expresses Jackson's anger about the way he has been portrayed in the media in recent years.
Epic's only official comment Thursday was a one-sentence statement: "Our own reaction to the song is that it is a statement against prejudice of any kind."
Jackson's manager, Sandy Gallin, complained that those who are offended are ignoring the context of the song.
"It's the most ridiculously misconstrued interpretation of a song that I've ever heard," Gallin said. "When you actually read the entire lyrics it's obvious that Michael is taking the voice of Everyman . . . and he's talking about injustices done by the system to young people. . . .
"I'm Jewish . . . and when I read the lyrics I thought, 'How does Michael even know how awful it is for a Jew to be called a kike?' I said that to him and he said, 'What do you think it's like being called a nigger or a skinhead? It's all horrible prejudice and accusations of people.' "